Spoiler alert: this blog is published after Westworld airs on HBO in the US and Sky Atlantic in the UK on Sunday night/Monday morning. Do not read unless you have watched season two, episode eight.
In a show predicated on the idea that leaving humans to their own devices tends towards depravity, it’s always been the robots who have the heart. Not many of them, to be fair, and not consistently, but still. This week’s episode, Kiksuya, concentrates on a single host, the Ghost Nation’s Akecheta, and tells the story of how his pain at a love lost led to obsession and eventual enlightenment.
The tale begins in a pre-lapsarian age – ie before the park opened – when the Ghost Nation, Westworld’s native American tribe, lived freely there. They live humbly, too, in harmony with nature, and Akecheta had a girlfriend, Kohana, about half his age. These were the good times.
Then, one day, a wandering Akecheta stumbles across the aftermath of Dolores’ first massacre in Escalante. Exploring the scene, he enters a bar and finds a small memento of the maze everyone was so obsessed with in the show’s first season. Also on the table are a full glass of whiskey and Arnold’s glasses (ooh, you naughty Arnold!). Rather than drink the whiskey, Akecheta picks up the memento and wanders home. Soon enough he’s started etching the maze on to meat.
Naturally, this draws the attention of the park’s authorities, who bring Akecheta in, and set about making sure he forgets all about what he saw. They also, at the apparent instructions of Robert Ford, turn him into a baddie. This is so that paying guests can feel a bit more relaxed about shanking him in the gut. Not that this happens much to Akecheta; he goes the next 10 years without being killed once.
Everything might have remained forgotten had Akecheta not had an unexpected encounter with an entirely naked Logan. The Delos heir, you will recall, ended season one being sent off into the neverwhere by his brother-in-law, William. It appears he ended up in the middle of the desert, sans clothes, and babbling like Peter Abernathy.
“Where’s the door?”, says Logan “There’s got to be a fucking way out of here? This is the wrong world.”
These phrases resonate with Akecheta, even though they are in English. He too has been feeling dislocation, and, after meeting Logan, a sense of his previous life starts coming back to him. He remembers the love he shared with Kohana and goes back to their camp to confront her. In response, she only looks at him blankly.
Akecheta is now on the road to wokeness and resolves to do something to find the truth about himself. First he goes looking for Logan again, but he has disappeared. Then Akecheta goes to the edge of the park and spies some hidden infrastructure. Maybe that’s the way out of here, he reasons, maybe that’s the door to the right world. He returns home, kidnaps the sleeping Kohana and heads for a new life.
Like everyone else who’s tried something similar to this point, Akecheta’s escape plan doesn’t work. Kohana is found by the Delos mob and taken to HQ for reprogramming. Once more, she doesn’t recognise Akecheta on her return and this causes him to go ‘off reservation’.
Hunting for the real spirit of Kohana everywhere he can – including on Maeve’s homestead, where he is saved from death by her daughter – Akecheta eventually resolves to get himself killed. This, he thinks, will be the best way to look for her in the next world. He duly invites a couple of guests to stab him and is withdrawn to Delos HQ where, thanks to the customarily shabby medical practices, he is able to wander freely around the HQ until he finds Kohana’s lifeless body in that big host warehouse they have.
Akecheta’s journey is now complete; he has a memory, he knows life exists beyond the park and, most importantly, he has emotional impulses that he believes he must follow. Upon returning to the Ghost Nation, he resumes his maze-etching habits with a vengeance, the best way to persuade other hosts to start questioning their situation (that’s what he says, anyway). Ultimately, this draws him to the attention of Ford who summons Akecheta in the middle of the night and, in front of a grisly tableau with a grizzly bear, tells him that when Ford dies, Akecheta should look to lead his people to ‘the door’.
And that, Akecheta tells Maeve’s child (to whom he’s been narrating his entire life story), is precisely what he’s going to do.
Notes from the prairie
- Zahn McClaron gives a great performance in Westworld’s most concerted character study to date. It’s made poignant because of the way he makes all the emotional beats count, particularly the first and final moments he shares with Kohana.
- Of course, any drama involving Native Americans (even robot ones) carries an added context – namely the mass depopulation (some would call it genocide) they experienced at the hands of British and American settlers. The Native American story, as it is commonly understood, is one of loss. That loss applies not just to a people, but to a culture, one closely entwined with the natural world. Another good thing about Kiksuya (the Lakota word for ‘remember’) is that it reminds us of this. The natural environment is to the fore, with the stunning landscapes of the American west given centre stage. Directed by Uta Briesewitz, this week’s episode is replete with extreme wide shots and gorgeous framing that show the locations, such as Castle Valley in Utah, to their best effect. Surely the most beautiful episode of the series so far.
- Akecheta’s story takes up the vast majority of the episode, but there is a little bit of Maeve in there, too. She’s in HQ, in some difficulty, and struggling to get the attention of any medics (as per). Lee Sizemore is at least on hand to lobby her case (the argument that he’s falling for her is getting stronger) and later, Charlotte Hale emerges, too. She learns about Maeve’s psychic abilities – the host has been using The Mesh (which, I confess, I think I had confused with The Cradle) to communicate with and issue instructions to other hosts. What Charlotte doesn’t know is that, while she’s learning all this, Maeve is forming a psychic accord with Akecheta.
- Akecheta also has a bond with Maeve’s daughter that predates their current encounter. It turns out all those scary Ghost Nation attacks in her memory were actually Akecheta trying to warn her about the maze. Akecheta persuades the daughter that she need not fear him and recognises in her another host who can remember.
- The Man in Black survived getting shot up, slung on the back of a horse then dumped on the ground before being picked up and slung onto another horse. He really is one tough hombre. He’s now in the custody of his daughter, however, with Emily continuing her habit of turning up in the right place at the right time to take her dad off the Ghost Nation’s hands.
- ‘The Deathbringer’ is the new name for Dolores, which may be a bit hackneyed, but at least has the virtue of being accurate. Akecheta has seen her work on two occasions, the second time as teed up by Ford. She, too, is looking for the door out of the park, but I’d still put her on a different side in this battle from Akecheta and Maeve.
- Chill piano classics alert: this week it’s Nirvana’s Heart Shaped Box (previously teased in the season two trailer).
Is it Maeve and Akecheta v Dolores and Teddy? When are we heading to ‘the Valley Beyond’? Is that the other side of ‘the door’? And will anyone give that old man some medical attention?